This is how I start my formal, official mails- “Dear All”. I wish I could have started this, ummm, this letter more informally. (I do not have a better word for it- It is more of a cry than a letter, not directed at anyone specifically but at everyone.) I cannot start this informally though. The matter that I wish to convey is of a sombre nature. This lockdown has been difficult for everyone. It has been especially difficult because we have been hearing of the death of some very well-known names. Sushant Singh Rajput passed away today, and it is said that he hanged himself. Finality of death is such that it has caused us human beings to dream up an afterlife. It is the ultimate full stop! End of a 34-year-old, at the peak of his career, with so much to offer. After Sushant’s death, people have been speculating if it was really a suicide. A friend’s friend said, “When you are an over achiever, you are involved in things that have some big consequences. We do not know what he must have gotten himself into.” When I heard it, I was deeply saddened! Death can be of two kinds. One where you die slowly of some terminal illness. You have time to create an image of yourself that you would like people to remember. The other kind of death is more unfortunate. A sudden death- This is the kind of death that causes people to speculate. People assume, people talk, and it may not always be good.
So, Sushant’s death made me think- how do I want people to remember me when I am gone? Now there are some who will say that you cannot control everyone; some people will always say terrible things. Yes, I know. But I am sorry, it is difficult for me to change the neurological pathways in my brain created by our cultural conditioning. We romanticize this idea so much; the idea that people will remember us after we are gone. We are told so often that our deeds should be such that people remember us well after our death. On quora, there are 182 answers for the question- “What do you want to be remembered for?”. So, I cannot help but think how I will be remembered.
I hate philosophers because they rarely do or did anything useful. But Aristotle left us all with a very profound thought- “The whole is greater than sum of its parts.” This statement means different things to different people. But to me, it means this- Every person is like a puzzle. We may know someone for a brief time during that person’s life. Thus, we only know a part of the puzzle. But we decide that this part is all that is there to the puzzle. If someone you know was depressed during your period of acquaintance than it does not mean that there was nothing more to the person than his/her depression. There are so many people there who know about me in parts. My mother says that I was the best child one could ask for, until I was 9/10 years old. I started walking when I was 10 months old and talking when I was 1 year old. I was obedient, I helped my parents, I took care of my sister, I got along well with my father’s aunts. People who knew me then will probably remember me as a good kid. I was sexually abused for almost 2 years, which started when I was 9. My periods started then, making it worse. I was angry, I yelled at everyone, I yelled at my mother publicly (how I hate myself for it!). I had something to prove though. So, I topped my class every year. I took up martial arts classes and while other kids dropped out because of a dreadful grandmaster, I continued for a long time! What started then, continued for a long, long period. Someone who remembers me from all those years, thinks of me as an extremely rebellious person. And because no one knew about how I was molested, they may think of me as a rebel without a cause. My teenage years were made worse by it. I met with an accident in 2009. I put on weight. So, people who remember me from my post grad years will say that I was an overweight kid who would get angry about smallest of things, who seemed intelligent but whose behaviour was erratic. I dint know then that all those years of keeping anger and shame within me had caused a mental disorder. I was diagnosed a few years ago. Many may suggest not writing about it publicly and I did not intend to do it until today. Because when I tell someone that I have a mental disorder, they start attributing all my actions to it. And sometimes I want to yell- “No it is NOT about my mental illness; you are just an a*&h$%e!” But my story, my puzzle is incomplete without it. My mental disorder is a part of my puzzle. It is still not the whole puzzle. There is more to me. I can safely say that I have done fairly well professionally so far. Someone who knows me for the 8-9 years of my professional life will probably say that I am very hardworking. They do not know how I had to burn midnight oil only because I was crying all day on some days. They do not know how I must battle a phobia every time I answer phone calls. So yes, you may know a part of me, but you do not know all of my story. My whole is greater than sum of its parts. And because it is, may I request you to not speculate when I am gone? May I request you to allow my dignity to remain when I am gone? When you think of me, tell my stories that you know. But at the end, could you add, “But that girl was so full of life and there is so much about her that I do not know.” Could you, possibly, do that for others too? Not speculate. Sushant may or may not have had depression. But can we not remember only that part of him when we remember him? Irfan may have died of cancer but that is such a small part of his story!
I befriended a guy when I was in class 10. We were in the same class for several years but as luck would have it, we became friends only then. His name was Mihir Dixit. We became friends because we went to a lady for Marathi language tuitions. It was only the two of us there. He was so vibrant; he was a happy-go-lucky chap! A few months later, a month before our board exams, he hanged himself. People said he was upset; people spoke of things happening in his family. Death is grim as it is. I refused to believe that someone who jumped from the roof of a building to another for the fun of it could have become so hopeless that gossamer threads of life could not hold on to him! I thought he may have tried something that went horribly wrong. But I refused to say ill things about him in his death. Why do we take away a person’s dignity in his/her death? Could we try to remember good things about the person no matter what the conditions of his/her death were? Whole is greater than sum of its parts, remember? Someone’s death is not their story.
A close friend said to me a few years ago, “Shivani, do not write about your personal life online. It is only masala for others.” So, I refrained from doing so for an awfully long time. But how do I keep it all within me. And it may sound like a cliché but if my stories die with me, I will die twice. I am writing in the hope that my message reaches a few. My father once said, “Keep doing good deeds. It is ok if 90 out of 100 only took advantage of you. It is enough to have touched those 10 lives who were genuinely in need.” That is what I hope to achieve when I write. It is ok if what I write is masala for 90, I will be happy if my message reaches 10.